Does Location Matter in PR?

This is a guest post by Curtis Sparrer, principal at Bospar.

This is a guest post by Curtis Sparrer, principal at Bospar.

As recently as June 26, 2009, the New York Times’ William Safire probed the etymology of the expression “location, location, location.”  The investigation into the phrase’s origins started when a wedding announcement submission claimed that the three most important rules in real estate came from the late British real estate tycoon Lord Harold Samuel. But Safire reported the expression likely wasn’t a British invention but rather a local Chicago expression, with the earliest example dating back to a 1926 real estate advertisement in the Chicago Tribune.

The question is whether that expression should be a consideration in selecting a public relations firm. Should CMOs and vice presidents of marketing look for agencies in San Francisco for high tech? Similarly, should agencies from New York be considered the best when trying to find an agency that represents finance or advertising?

In a word: no.

But with caveats – both from marketers and journalists.

“When we evaluate the right PR agency partners at Glassdoor, we are much more concerned with strategy and execution versus location,” said Scott Dobroski, corporate communications director for Glassdoor. “With the advent of technology today, location is not a leading factor, though we think about where the agency has power. For instance, if they have team members geographically located on the East and West Coasts, that is very helpful for early morning East Coast news chasing and West Coast news chasing if something hits much later in the day. A local presence is preferred, as face-to-face interactions do add value, but the right fit is more important.”

Katie Belding, who oversees partner portfolio services for Norwest Venture Partners, is frequently sought out by companies looking for PR agency guidance. “It really comes down to the firm and the people, because location doesn’t matter if your people are out there networking with the necessary audiences,” she said. “Whether the media is on the East or the West Coast – it just matters what your PR team can do.”

Sheila Dahlgren, CMO of Viewpost, agrees. “I have worked at several startups that were not headquartered in Silicon Valley, San Francisco or New York, with great PR success. It is really about choosing the right PR team, one that understands your industry, the problem your products or services solve and, most importantly, has the knack for elevating your company and brand with a unique point of view that sparks interest with the media you are targeting.”

“Location matters less than availability,” said Cliff Edwards, director of marketing and communications at Searchmetrics, Inc. “If you’re a global company, you’re by default relying on an agency to be your eyes and ears on the ground. If you’re at a smaller company, you value knowledge and contacts. With either, you want your agency to be available when you need it.”

“If your objective is to hire 10 percent more engineers than your company brought on last year in your Silicon Valley headquarters, then having a Bay Area-based agency may make sense if you’re looking to place stories and generate awareness in your zip code or if you want your agency to be able to have easy access to your current pool of engineers as they craft their strategy,” said Krista Canfield, vice president of communications for Food Water Shoes. “On the other hand, if your objective is to increase awareness of your sporty new coupe your car company has among working women between the ages of 25-34 from 10 percent to 20 percent, you’ll want to consider which influencers and publications that demographic pays close attention to. If those outlets or influencers live in Austin or New York, not in the city your car company is headquartered in, having your agency within your city limits may not help you as much as you hoped it would.”

Matt Lindner, a journalist with 10 years of experience across print, broadcast and digital, says that from his point of view, location matters entirely on the outlet PR is pitching. “For my full-time job at Internet Retailer magazine, location absolutely does not matter because we write about retailers and vendors that are based around the world. If there’s an interesting story angle, I don’t care where they are, I’m interested in learning more about it and setting up an interview. For my freelance work with RedEye and the Chicago Tribune, that’s a different story. RedEye’s audience especially tends to be Chicago-based and within the 18-35 age range, so pitching me a story about a company or individual that doesn’t have any Chicago ties isn’t going to interest me.”

Annie Gaus of the San Francisco Business Times has a similar opinion. “Location isn’t a deal-breaker for me; I’ll consider pitches regardless of city. However, I have found that local PR folks have a better understanding of the local nuances to a story, which tends to be a pretty significant factor in my tech coverage. And as is the case with any professional relationships, it’s always nice when you have opportunities to meet and greet in person, whether that’s a PR contact, a source or any other relationship that’s important to your beat.”

But Chris Matyszczyk, who writes for both Inc. and CNET, has concerns that trump mere geography. “I can’t say I even notice where PR firms are based when they contact me.  I do, however, notice when they spell my name wrong, ask me to write about the same thing I wrote about last week, or tell me that the widget they’re representing is magical and revolutionary and will change the world.”

Curtis_Sparrer_1Curtis Sparrer is a principal at Bospar. He was one of Business Insider’s “50 Best Public Relations People In The Tech Industry,” and has led PR campaigns for startups and big names including 1010data, Apigee, Ebates and PayPal.

You can find Curtis on Twitter and LinkedIn.